Look who's back in the NCAAs — Gonzaga.
Picked to finish third in the West Coast Conference, the Bulldogs instead won their third straight NCAA tournament berth, surviving a barrage of late 3-pointers to beat Santa Clara 80-77 Monday night.
Dan Dickau scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half and was named MVP of the WCC tournament. He was 6-of-8 from the free-throw line in the last 1:36, and Gonzaga (24-6), known by many as the Zags, enters the NCAAs having won 18 of 19 games.
Unprecedented Third Straight WCC Tourney Title
Gonzaga won five NCAA games the last two seasons. It fell a win short of the Final Four during its surprising run in 1999, then came back for more last year, reaching the regional semifinals before being eliminated.
Although they were picked to finish third in the WCC, the Zags lost just one game — at Santa Clara in the final week — and were the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
"This is so sweet because everyone expected us to drop off," said Casey Calvary, the only current Bulldogs player who started on both of the NCAA teams. "But we're back again."
Gonzaga opened the tournament with a 40-point win over Saint Mary's, then survived early scares against San Diego and Santa Clara.
"With the way we're playing, I think we're ready to make a run like the last two years," Dickau said.
Gonzaga won an unprecedented third straight WCC tourney title.
"There is supreme satisfaction of a mission accomplished," coach Mark Few said. "But now there's much more left to be done."
Santa Clara made 10 3-pointers in the second half to rally from a 13-point deficit, including one by Kyle Bailey to pull Santa Clara to 78-77 with 24.9 seconds left.
Gonzaga still had fouls to give, though, and fouled the Broncos before they could get off shots in the final seconds. After a timeout, Jamie Holmes shot an airball from behind the arc as time ran out, sending the Zags into a familiar celebration.
Blake Stepp added 21 points for the Bulldogs. He keyed a 22-3 run in the first half by making three 3-pointers.
Brian Jones scored 21 for Santa Clara (20-12), and Steve Ross had 20.
Gonzaga brushed off an early deficit for the second straight night, coming back from 11 down just six minutes in. In Sunday night's semifinal win over San Diego, Gonzaga was down by 14 in the first half before going on a 16-0 run.
This time, the Bulldogs used a 22-3 run that gave them a 38-29 lead three minutes before halftime. Stepp hit three 3-pointers, giving him four in the half, and Calvary made three field goals.
"They are a very good team that can give you problems in the tournament," Santa Clara coach Dick Davey said. "They create a lot of problems that other teams don't."